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Bill would create animal cruelty registry

Friday, January 31, 2014

A bill to establish an animal cruelty registry in Virginia is progressing in the General Assembly. While a local animal rights activist said it may need fine-tuning, the bill’s sponsor said it a step in the right direction.

Nicole Harris, executive director of the SPCA of Martinsville-Henry County, said she is “on the fence” about supporting Senate Bill 32, which would require the superintendent of the Virginia State Police to establish and maintain a registry that would include the names of people convicted of certain animal cruelty felonies.

Such a registry, similar to the Sex Offender Registry, could be accessed online at the state police website, according to the bill and State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Glade Hill, who sponsored it.

“The registry would only have the names of those convicted of the most heinous crimes against defenseless animals,” Stanley said. It is doubly important considering studies that have shown “that a person who has propensity” to treat an animal poorly will exhibit similar behaviors with people, he added.

Currently, the registry would include the names of approximately 700 people, Stanley said of those convicted of torturing, maiming or mutilating a dog or cat, thereby causing its death, dog fighting and other felony convictions. Other crimes, such as a shopkeeper failing to provide adequate care and/or abandoning an animal, generally would result in conviction of a misdemeanor.

Animal rescue organizations and adoption agencies — like the SPCA and the Patrick Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) — would be able to access the registry and search the database before adopting out an animal to make sure the adopter was not an abuser, Stanley said. Those agencies “should have that information in front of them before adopting” out a pet, he added.

Harris agreed that such a registry “has great merit, but I think it needs a lot of fine-tuning,” Harris said.

For one thing, the costs could be a burden on taxpayers, she said.

Stanley said the state would pay to implement the registry.

The Virginia State Police (VSP) — which would implement and oversee the registry — estimates one-time costs of $552,000 for development and engineering of the registry, with an annual ongoing maintenance cost estimated at $60,000, including software maintenance and system upgrades. Additionally, a full-time technologist (basically a programmer to maintain and support the registry and perform ongoing maintenance and periodic software and hardware updates) would cost $164,439. An additional office service specialist would be needed in the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS) at an estimated first year cost of $62,093 to handle the data entry and other functions needed to maintain the registry, the impact statement says.

Stanley said he believes those estimates “are way too high.”

Also, because the names of all those convicted of animal cruelty would not be listed on the registry — only those convicted of especially heinous cases — Harris said a person who wanted to adopt an animal could have been convicted of a lesser offense (chaining a dog without shelter or other basics such as food and water) would not be included on the registry, and potentially still could adopt an animal.

Currently, Harris said the SPCA checks the reputations of other rescue agencies which accept pets from the local SPCA, to ensure those agencies have the same no kill mission as the local agency. Sites used may include Pet-Abuse.Com and/or — both of which maintain searchable databases.

Harris said there are other options as well, including animal federation agencies (which exist in most states), animal control agencies, the local SPCA and SPCAs or rescue agencies in other areas.

When researching other rescue agencies, Harris said, the SPCA may use one or all of those tools before allowing animals to be placed with a different rescue agency.

On the proposed registry, Harris said: “I do think it would be a great thing to have. It would be awesome to have everything all in one place where you just go and look it up.” But, she noted, it might “be more advisable for the state” to use existing systems unless and until the registry proposal is fine-tuned and the cost is curbed.

Stanley said that if approved, the registry “is a good start.”

According to the impact statement, the registry would require a minimum of 12 months of work to document detailed system requirements, bid out the system specifications, procure the hardware and software, and develop, test and implement the system.

The proposal was approved by members of the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources on Thursday and referred to the Finance Committee for consideration, Stanley said.

A similar bill, sponsored in 2011 by Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, was left in the Courts of Justice Committee that year. It essentially died.


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